By Will Dossett, Student at UPenn
Over the years, the environmental movement has come up empty-handed on many occasions, and progress on climate change has proved elusive.
Bill McKibben has a plan to change that.
McKibben, a professor at Middlebury College and founder of the climate action nonprofit group 350.org, has launched a new environmental campaign with a nationwide “Do the Math” tour. The weekend before break, a group of Penn students, myself included, went downtown to the First Unitarian Church on Chestnut Street to hear him speak.
There, we heard nothing short of a call to battle.
McKibben’s plan is centered on the concept of divestment — removing resources from companies doing something that you disagree with. The strategy was successful in pressuring South Africa to end apartheid in the 1990s, but is now being refocused on environmentalists’ ancient and implacable foe: Big Oil.
Armed with massive lobbyist armies and inexhaustible funds, oil companies have been pulling strings on Capitol Hill since the Rockefeller years. Major oil companies and their lawmaking cronies have stymied every effort towards comprehensive climate reform in the United States.
The environmental movement has had enough. Divestment is the tool to remove Big Oil’s source of power: their consumers. It’s a new approach. Organizing churches, schools and communities is aimed not at stopping the use of cars or gasoline, but at selling off stock in oil companies and stopping the implicit agreement represented by fossil fuel-filled portfolios.
Why? Because we can’t wait anymore for action to prevent climate change. According to 350.org, there is over five times as much carbon in oil company reserves as we can safely burn to stay below 2 degrees Celcius of warming, the internationally accepted red line, and the edge of the abyss that we must not tumble into.
This isn’t your parents’ environmental movement anymore. As this spring’s protests against the Keystone XL pipeline show, civil disobedience is back. And it is unquestionably still a potent tool in the citizen’s political toolbox.
The politically correct petitions and letters are done. Education and public relations campaigns are not enough. The stakes are too high to wait for others to take action.
For too long, environmentalists have been content with small victories, with BYO cup parties or clothing swaps, showing environmental documentaries and having discussion sessions. And while these are valuable to a healthy movement, in the grand scheme of world politics, they barely register.
We’ve got to go after the root of the problem, Big Oil. The only way to force the companies to listen is to cut into their bottom line.
Just this past month, Unity College became the first institution of higher education to publicly divest from fossil fuels. As an Ivy League school with a nearly $7 billion endowment, we have an opportunity to take a meaningful position in favor of cleaner energy. A completely fossil-free portfolio would send a powerful message that puts Penn in a position to lead this effort. Now is the time to make a difference and join a movement that has real potential to effect change.
Go here to petition Penn to go fossil free.